Monday, March 13, 2006

So I says to my students...

This was my freshman comp class this morning.

We're talking about interpretation, and how different folk can read the same work, or see the same movie, and nevertheless experience different results.

My students aren't getting it. It's the same movie. How could different people watch the same movie and see a different movie?

"It's like the five blind men and the elephant," I say.

They stare at me as though I am speaking Ancient Greek.

"You know," I say. "The five blind guys who go out to look at the elephant?"

No. They don't know. They have never heard this fable.

And my class last year had never heard Aesop's story of the dog in the manger. When I said someone in a story was a dog in a manger, they had no clue what I meant.

These kids today.

(So I switched tactics, btw. I went to Brokeback Mountain. All right, I said. Let's suppose all of us in this room go to see Brokeback Mountain -- which is still playing, right here in Fort Smith, something that boggles me every time I think of it -- the class erupted in wails of dismay, they were not going to see Brokeback Mountain, not even in theory, not even in supposition, laws a mercy, heavens no! -- let's suppose we did, I said, do you suppose we would be seeing the same movie, all of us in this room? No, said the rude punk in the back row, because not all of us are fags. Not quite the uncivil way I would put it, son, I told him, but precisely. Those of us who aren't too scared to see the movie would see one movie. Those of us who are frightened, well, they'd be seeing another, wouldn't they? And so on.)

1 comment:

Diane said...

Your post only reminds me of how upset I am about who is permitted to attend college. But it was the same many decades ago when I went. Well, maybe not as bad, but I recall taking a composition course in which many of the students had absolutely no notion of correct grammar and syntax. None.

I have a family member who, for years, was mystified that there could be different interpretations of a piece of art of any kind. He could not understand that five different directors could create five totally different films or plays. I think that has changed now, after years of my explaining and presenting examples.

There is something very wrong with the way people in this culture learn. Whatever happened to having a frame of reference? Without one, a person can barely think, but, instead, becomes more like the mentally retarded, who cannot generalize, but must confront each situation as though it were completely new and unheard of.

I am not anti-science at all (except for the part of science that exploits animals--I'm against that), but the constant harping on science and technology at the expense of art and rhetoric is killing the national brain. A person who doesn't understand the metaphor of the blind man and the elephant is a person who has rejected story-telling, civilization's most basic way of explaining, interpreting, and correcting itself.